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Malaysia Day going off course

  • By right the Sarawak state election is still quite some time away, but it now looks much nearer than it is, as the war has quietly begun. Photo courtesy: Bernama

By TAY TIAN YAN
Sin Chew Daily

On the surface, the Malaysia Day celebration in Kuching two days ago was a spirit-lifting event that underscored the cohesiveness between East and West Malaysia.

But in reality, it was an undersurface political tussle between the federal administration and Sarawak's GPS government.

Mahathir arrived in Kuching with leaders of ruling coalition component parties and key members of his cabinet as if to demonstrate how much the federal government values East Malaysia but also as a show of force of PH's political prowess.

The prime minister started the meeting with the state PH leadership soon after he disembarked from his plane in Kuching, and the meeting, naturally, was about the upcoming Sarawak election.

State PKR and the party's central leadership had a closed door meeting, and Anwar put it forthright that it was about preparations for the state election.

And DAP was not taking things easy too. State chairman Chong Chieng Jen claimed that once Umno and PAS managed to win significant number of seats in the parliament, GPS would join Umno-PAS to form a coalition government.

As for Mahathir's PPBM, a 50,000-strong rally scheduled for the day was called off last minute citing the haze, but the party was reluctant to let go of a golden opportunity of self propaganda, as it vowed to boost its Sarawak membership to 150,000 within a year.

Mahathir even openly declared that Sarawak election was expected to be held some time next year, and that PH had good chances of seizing the state administration.

This sounded more like a declaration than a prophecy.

As the host, the Sarawak state government might not have anticipated an early pre-election campaign at the convenience of the Malaysia Day celebration, and appeared somewhat clumsily passive and unprepared.

Anyway, chief minister Abang Zohari took advantage of the celebration to proclaim the state government's position. In his speech, he explained at great length how Malaysia came into existence, emphasizing Sarawak's deserved equal status and hinting at Putrajaya's mistreatment over the years.

He did not shy away from highlighting the differences in power delegation between the federal and state governments, insisting that this problem could be settled through amicable “family relationship” and that Sarawak would continue to stay within the federation.

Notably, two-thirds of Abang Zohari's speech was delivered in English in an apparent attempt to highlight the ideological differences between both sides.

Originally intended to showcase the cordial relationship and solidarity between the peninsula and the East, the Malaysia Day celebration in Kuching awkwardly went off course.

In its essence, the relationship between the federal and state governments has not been any less conflicting since day one.

The state's current ruling alliance GPS -- comprising PBB, SUPP, PRS and PDP -- used to be part of the BN coalition. Although the coalition's other components like Umno, MCA, MIC and Gerakan Rakyat suffered heavy election losses on the peninsula, the state BN still won most of the seats in Sarawak.

Having weighed the pros and cons, Sarawak BN parties decided that they should quit the coalition but would not join PH as they could survive on their own.

Ideologically speaking, GPS embraces the “Sarawak for Sarawakians” advocacy in hope of winning the support of Sarawakians to counter the federal government.

And GPS commands an utterly advantageous position in PH's showdown with Umno-PAS. Once the two camps become comparable in strength, East Malaysian parties will be the eventual kingmakers.

Sure enough PH is well aware of such a delicate relationship, but as DAP and PKR both have their political presence in Sarawak, it is unlikely for them to forgo their vested interest, including seats, organizations and support bases.

As for PPBM which now has a negligible presence in East Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak are new frontiers for its ambitious expansion. As such, the party forces through its expansion plan in East Malaysia despite resistance from GPS and Warisan.

PH wants to capture more seats in Sabah and Sarawak to offset the pressure from Umno-PAS on the peninsula in order to keep itself continuously in power. GPS has come to realize that PH, unlike the old BN, is more of a rival than ally.

By right the Sarawak state election is still quite some time away, but it now looks much nearer than it is, as the war has quietly begun.

 

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